Women in positions of power have a lot less trouble than men at finding other female executives for key roles, according to an analysis of 1,000 U.S. corporate boardrooms.
Companies that have women in key leadership posts like chief executive officer or board chairman have women in more than 27 percent of director seats, compared with less than 18 percent at firms where men are in charge, according to a study released Monday by the advocacy group 2020 Women on Boards.
The group wants women to hold at least 20 percent of all board seats at U.S. companies by 2020, up from 17.9 percent now. Almost 90 percent of businesses led by women already meet that goal.
“Women-led companies are doing better in the gender diversity on boards than male-led companies, but in general we’re also seeing a better level of women serving on boards,” said Malli Gero, co-founder and president of 2020 Women on Boards. “When you have a woman on the board, they are going to be able to help find more women.”
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Companies are under increasing pressure to create more diverse boardrooms, particularly by adding women, to reflect the makeup of the workforce. There’s also mounting evidence that it’s good for profits.
Morgan Stanley added to research supporting that thesis when it said last month that companies with more women in the ranks had better returns and lower volatility. Women make up almost half of the total workforce and about 4.4 percent of CEO jobs in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
The study released Monday showed that about three quarters of female directors were serving on only one board, a finding that Gero said belies the myth that there is only a small group of qualified women who must be shared among several companies.
The WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation this year asked more than 4,000 board members why the panels are so male-dominated, and 30 percent of men cited a “lack of qualified female candidates,” something with which only 7 percent of female respondents concurred.
Bigger companies are increasingly willing to hire female directors. Among the more than 1,800 businesses monitored by the group, 334 still have no women in those roles, and that group is dominated by smaller companies, Gero said.
Still, the advocacy group said it sees signs of progress. It runs a campaign about once a month to target a company without female directors, but it’s getting harder to find a scapegoat that would be recognized by the general public, Gero said.
“There are very few companies that hold the position ‘no women, no way,’ ” she said. “It’s more that they really, honestly say that they don’t know where to find them, or they just don’t want to take the time, or the search is too expensive.”